News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Engagement

April 05, 2010

Going on the record: Civic engagement is for journalists, too!

The traditional culture and ethics of professional journalism encourage journalists to hold themselves aloof from the communities they cover; to maintain objectivity through distance. Generally this means not voicing personal opinions on politics or controversial issues, and not engaging directly in civic processes. Sometimes even voting, campaign contributions, or speaking up at civic meetings are considered dicey territory for “real” journalists.

Now might be a good time to question this tradition…

By Amy Gahran

(This is the final guest post in a series by Amy Gahran. Amy is looking how news organizations and other institutions can implement the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, This joint project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program produced the report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” See all posts in this series.)

The advent of the Obama administration has led to substantial policy activity in areas that directly affect the work that journalists do, the communities they serve, and ventures that publish and distribute journalism. Earlier in this series I discussed the civic engagement implications of the proposed National Broadband Plan, the FCC’s Future of Media project, and the emerging government 2.0 movement.

Currently, US government at all levels is seeking (or at least is claiming to seek) to become more transparent. Obviously, this won’t just benefit communities and citizens. Journalists and news organizations also stand to reap direct benefits from increased government transparency.

Similarly, the ability of journalists and news organizations to continue to work effectively hinges partly on policy issues such as net neutrality, and the outcome of the FCC’s Future of Media project. (UPDATE Apr. 6: Today Mashable reports that “A U.S. appeals court has ruled that the FCC doesn’t have the right to enforce net neutrality principles for ISPs.” This could significantly affect the long-term prospects of anyone—but especially anyone not with a major media organizations—who relies on broadband for content distribution or community building.)

As Robert Niles says in OJR this week, online publishers can no longer afford to remain politically neutral. It’s time for journalists, news organizations, journalism schools, and other journalism organizations to speak up on their own behalf. To publicly participate in relevant civic processes. To push for policies that will further the interests of journalism and the communities served by journalism.

ACTION STEP: Find and use all opportunities to comment publicly in media policy debates. Doing so does not “taint” journalistic purity or otherwise sully your reputation. These actions cannot damage your credibility or compromise your objectivity—because if you’re being honest with yourself (and your audience) you cannot be objective when you’ve got so much at stake.

A good example of this comes from the Society of Environmental Journalists. In March, SEJ submitted a list of eight suggestions for improving transparency to the OpenEPA discussion forum. Suggestions included:

“1. End the practice that prevents EPA scientists or employees from talking to reporters without press office permission and a press officer present.”

“4. A presumption that press officers and other officials are talking on the record unless otherwise agreed to explicitly in advance by both sides. ‘Background’ should be the rare exception, not the standard operating procedure.”

“7. Improve press office inclusiveness to include routinely a broader spectrum of media types that make up today’s changing news media landscape.”

Submitting these suggestions supports SEJ’s ongoing efforts to work with EPA to improve transparency at the national and regional levels. But better EPA transparency would also translate to better environmental reporting at the local level, too.

(Disclosure: I’ve worked with SEJ in various roles for many years, but I was not involved in this particular engagement effort.)

Many states also have sites to collect public ideas on increasing transparency. The Pew Center on the States recently listed several. Where these sites exist, journos and news organizations should use them to lobby publicly and specifically for the kinds of transparency changes that will enhance journalism and democracy.

Also, submit public comments on the FCC’s Future of Media project. The deadline has been extended to May 7. This is a valuable opportunity to offer input on core issues affecting all aspects of the media business. It looks like most comments are being submitted via the FCC’s electronic comment filing system. Reference docket No. 10-25 in comments you leave there, and be sure to related your comments back to the specific questions posed by FCC. (See the document embedded at the end of this post.)

My closing thought for this series is: Civic engagement really IS for journalists, too. We’re definitely affected by government policy and transparency. We have legitimate interests. And if we don’t speak up in civic processes, on the record, our views won’t really count.

So put aside any cultural qualms about “getting involved.” This is a story journalists are living and working, not just covering. This is our story. If we don’t claim a leading role, we’ll be relegated to the background. Ultimately, communities would pay the price for our reticence.

FCC Future of Media Questions


April 08, 2010

Engagement: A job for every journalist

Among emerging roles for journalists and news organizations, engaging online communities around news and information is vital. Here are some leads and encouragement for journalists and newsrooms who want to give it a try

There has been a lot of good writing and discussion lately about a new role for news providers: community engagement. I want to summarize key points and point to other posts about the topic and offer a few thoughts.

Voice of San Diego got the ball rolling last week when it posted an opening for an engagement editor:

“The pioneering news organization wants someone to revolutionize how it presents its content and engages the San Diego community. You will find creative ways—from e-mail to blogs to twitter and more—to deliver our service to San Diegans. You will also be a new age opinion editor, sparking dynamic debates and discussions on the site. And you will be a guide to our service, helping our users find the needed context to keep up with the complex local issues that determine San Diego’s quality of life.”

Steve Buttry then elaborated on his new role as Community Engagement Editor for Allbritton Communications’s soon-to-start local news site in Washington, D.C. Buttry said he hopes all of the journalists on the staff of this new organization will work on engagement. His team of six will help the newsroom up its game by coaching and performing jobs that don’t fit into more traditional news gathering and editing roles. “For instance, we will recruit and work with a network of bloggers in our metro area. On some community events that our staff won’t be covering, we will aggregate and curate content provided by the community or provide some platforms for the community to provide the coverage. Where our staff is covering an event, we will supplement that coverage by finding and soliciting community contributions,” Buttry said.

Finally, if you are interested in getting into the game, I recommend Angela Connor’s “18 Rules of Community Engagement.” Here is Angela’s presentation at KDMC’s recent Knight Community Information Challenge Boot Camp for Knight Foundation grantees who are developing news and engagement projects.

I have this additional advice for newsrooms that under take community engagement efforts:
- Be clear about your goals and how you will measure them. Be mindful that numbers may not tell the story. Often, engagement is not about drawing large numbers. It is about building a smaller community of loyal users, contributors and partners in your news endeavor.
- Don’t confused engagement editor with social media editor. Social media may be part of the engagement job but there’s a lot more to it, as Buttry notes.
- Assign or hire an engagement editor who will challenge staff and newsroom leaders alike. Let that person experiment even if it makes others uncomfortable. Help that person carry the message across the newsroom - help her articulate it and make it clear to everyone that you want the staff to listen and act.

May 13, 2010

Gaining value from comments: “There I fixed it!”

Most mainstream news sites succeed at attracting plenty of comments. But too often, they drop that ball by treating comments like a vacant lot: Comment threads are pushed away from easy view, generally ignored or dismissed by news staff, and often overrun by vermin, weeds, and trash.

As Michele McLellan indicated in her May 11 post, Comments: Opportunity Lost?, mindset is a big part of this problem: “It’s a big leap [for journos to change] from telling the story and walking away to fostering a conversation,” she wrote.

One strategy to help glean value from site comments is to prominently highlight the best comments. One site that does this well, and simply, is the humor site “There I Fixed It”...

There I Fixed It features funny user-contributed photos of bad repairs (“kludges”). It’s part of the popular Cheezburger family of sites (of “I can haz cheezburger” LOL Cats fame)—and it’s one of my favorite resources for emergency mood management.

All of the Cheezburger sites attract tons of comments—but There I Fixed It adds a special twist. On several posts, the site’s editor updates the original post to feature a great comment from that thread.

For example, after this photo of a tree swing made with a baby stroller was originally posted on May 11, the post accompanying the picture was expanded to add:

Favorite Comment: Fixer TexasDan says, “The great part about this swing is that if the branch gives way or the ropes break, there’s a good chance the baby will roll safely into the street.”

...That gem, pulled from a thread that’s 29 comments long, added considerable value to the post (and the site as a whole) by:

  • Being great. Entertainment is the purpose of this site, and Texas Dan’s comment was pretty funny. Increasing its visibility by adding it to the main post, and not just leaving it buried in the thread, increased the value of the entire post for everyone.
  • Rewarding good behavior. Texas Dan probably was pleased to see his contribution acknowledged and highlighted. Emotional gratification and public accolades are tangible benefits to people who take the time to contribute to online discussions.
  • Building engagement and business. When visitors see that some of the comments are especially good, that encourages them to click beyond the home page to explore the comment threads—and, not incidentally, view more ads.
  • Encouraging good behavior. When it’s obvious that site operators not only notice but acknowledge, appreciate, and reward high-quality comments, that gives everyone an incentive to comment well. Regular contributors might even get competitive about it.

Could this approach help news sites? Certainly, it is something news sites can try. Fortunately, it’s easy to experiment with—in a low-effort, no-cost way that requires no changes to your content management system or page design.

TRY THIS: First, declare an experiment on your news site. Mention to readers that each day, for a couple of weeks, you’ll select and highlight right in the story the best reader comments for a few stories.

Then, each day, quickly peruse your 3-5 busiest comment threads. For each thread, pick out 1-3 high-quality comments: ones that are especially insightful, poignant, entertaining, or that add useful context/info or raise good questions. Don’t try to do this for every story or comment thread. Just focus on the busiest ones.

Copy the text of these comments (you can excerpt if they’re long) and paste it into the body of the story—at the end, under a boldface subhead: “Highlights from the Comments.” Be sure to include the name of the commenter, both for personal recognition and to reward accountability. If it’s possible to link to specific comments on your site, do so.

After the highlighted comments are published with the story, notify the reporters/editors who worked on the story. If they tend to ignore, deride, or not participate in comment threads, this might engage them—or even give them ideas for future coverage.

If your commenting system requires commenters to register with an e-mail address, here’s an extra option: Shoot a quick note to the author of each selected comment. Thank them for their contribution, tell them you liked it enough to highlight it in the story, and include a link to the story. (Compose boilerplate text for this note to minimize effort.)

Watch for results. Over the course of the experiment, consider the general tone of comments on your site. Are you seeing any improvement, whether on the stories with highlighted comments or across your site? What’s the feedback from readers and others? (Especially newsroom staff: Are they grousing about comments less—or perhaps even praising them, or participating in threads, or suggesting comments to highlight?) Are the stories with highlighted comments getting more or different traffic? More inbound links or social media mentions?

If this experiment seems beneficial, consider making it part of your regular routine. For instance, you could modify your content management system to automate parts of this process: a single click could both publish a highlighted comment and notify the commenter by e-mail. Also, you could automatically feature “best recent comments” on your site’s home page, or in e-mail alerts.

If this experiment proves popular and beneficial, you might find ways to include highlighted comments in your print or broadcast editions.

As McLellan suggested, journalists or other news staffers ideally should participate in comment threads. However, my experiment described above could happen even where staff time or interest for comments is in short supply. All it takes is one person (a web producer, journalist, or thoughtful staffer from any part of the organization) with a very small amount of time, appropriate access to your CMS, and an urge to spruce up that vacant lot a bit—and perhaps also improve the value of your whole property.

November 03, 2010

Election coverage: Quick newsroom action today could boost community engagement

Everyone wants to know how yesterday’s midterm elections turned out, so today is a peak time for the news business. Right now, most daily news organizations are probably seeing much higher-than-usual traffic to their web sites—as well as above-average audiences for print and broadcast news.

...All about a topic that is fundamentally about civic and community engagement. Imagine that.

Robert Niles wrote today in Online Journalism Review that community engagement is the key to local news venues winning back audiences and advertisers. With this in mind, I’d like to suggest how news orgs might capitalize on today’s peak traffic…

By Amy Gahran

Elections tend to pique public interest, but in the long term citizens care mainly about issues that affect them directly. Therefore, persistent topic pages focused on community impacts are a better “hook” to foster broader community interest and engagement than traditional election news stories which fall of the radar quickly. (It also doesn’t hurt that topic pages yield significant search engine visibility benefits, too.)

So, today you should create some topic pages that highlight likely long-term local community impacts of today’s election results.

If your content management system allows you to easily designate topic pages (and it should!) then today you should set up web pages intended to track over time how the races or issues decided in this election will affect the communities you cover.

For instance, here in California, the defeat of Proposition 23 means that many locals are hoping for more local jobs and other economic benefits related to green energy and clean technology. Therefore, a Bay Area news org might do well to set up a “green economy watch” topic page today, and there list stories about Prop 23 and other related election news.

Don’t go crazy—just pick 3-5 obvious long-term, hot-button issues that probably will be significantly swayed by the latest election results. Funding for education, public safety, and the environment are likely suspects. Then, designate someone responsible for updating these page over the next six months (an hour or two a week to post fresh links).

Keep these topic pages simple: just a quick overview stating the topic and perhaps asking leading questions, followed by links to coverage and other items in reverse chronological order. (This tutorial intended for local bloggers works equally well for news orgs.)

Engagement generally improves when you demonstrate that you’re listening as well as talking. Therefore, your election-impact topic pages also should republish especially thoughtful or relevant community views. You should gather these views not just from comments submitted to your news site, but also from public posts to Twitter, discourse on your news org’s Facebook presence, or from the public Facebook pages or sites/blogs of other key local players.

Aim to showcase a diversity of views (political, geographic, economic, ethnic, etc.) which are expressed with civility and good-spirited humor. Don’t neglect to respond directly to these community members to show them how you’ve showcased their remarks. Such recognition encourages everyone to make better contributions to the public conversation. It also increases link-sharing to your topic pages.

Make sure your topic pages are mobile-friendly, especially for feature phone users. Skip the fancy graphics and complex navigation. Get right to the point, in a page that loads fast and displays well on a very small screen over low bandwidth.

Include sharing tools on your topic pages—and on all your election news. Encourage people to e-mail, text, share or like on Facebook, and tweet your news. This helps foster a sense of shared ownership or responsibility for the story and for the issue. Also, provide an option for people to sign up to get e-mail alerts (daily or weekly) with fresh updates to a particular topic page.

If your content management system does NOT make it easy to create topic pages, then knuckle down and manually hack a few pages together. Then, when you upgrade your CMS to make topic page generation easy—and that’ll be very soon, right?—you’ll already be ahead of this game. (Next week I’ll be covering a third-party tool called Scribble Live which can streamline integrating real-time and ongoing coverage from many sources into pages on your site.)

Create short redirect URLs for these pages that are easily transmitted via print and broadcast. If you don’t have your own URL shortener, use so you can track clickthrough and estimate secondary sharing. You want it to be as easy as possible for people to find your topic pages. Mention these topic pages and their short URLs alongside your related print and broadcast coverage.

Finally, promote your election-related topic pages prominently on your site today, and especially in the coming week. Do this on your home page, on your elections section head page, and in a house ad throughout your site at a minimum. Also, make sure that every story that you add to your topic page receives a prominent link (at or near the top, if possible) back to the topic page.

If community engagement is a priority for your news org (something the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy strongly recommends), you can find more ideas for accomplishing this goal in my KDMC series on building civic and community engagement.

November 19, 2010

Putting source documents online? DocumentCloud can enhance reporting, engagement

Reporters must read, analyze, and keep track of lots of documents—and increasingly it makes sense to share those documents with news audiences, to support the final story. If you’re posting documents online, why not do so in a way that adds value for both your reporting effort and your audience?

DocumentCloud is a free tool that allows journalists to annotate, analyze, collaborate around, and publish source documents…

By Amy Gahran

DocumentCloud was developed with seed money from a 2009 Knight News Challenge grant. It creates a searchable public catalog of source documents—from FBI files, to government-commissioned reports, to medical records, to ballots and more. This gives DocumentCloud a potential advantage over popular tools like Scribd, which mainly just allow you to upload, embed, and share documents. Those functions are useful, but if you’re already using a tool like Scribd (or simply uploading documents to your own web server) you may want to experiment with Document Cloud to see what kind of extra mileage you can get.

When you upload a document to DocumentCloud, the system indexes all text in the document and also extracts text from images using optical character recognition. The system also has its own “scraper” that extracts and indexes all date references, so you can see all dates that appear in document and the sentence where each reference appears.

DocumentCloud also processes documents using semantic analysis tools from OpenCalais (a free service from Thompson Reuters). Once this is done, you can view in the sidebar a list of entities (people, organizations, place names, phone numbers, etc.) named in the document; or view a timeline based on dates listed in the document.

This can help reporters make a first pass at understanding the content and context of a document. And if you upload several related documents, this analysis can help you decide which documents you need to focus on first in your research.

“In terms of newsroom document analysis tools, we’re mostly competing with Post-it notes and highlighters,” observed DocumentCloud program director Amanda Hickman.

Hickman explained that DocumentCloud was designed specifically to support journalists and news organizations—so not just anyone can get an account. Account requests either must come from an editor at your news organization, or else the reporter who wants to use DocumentCloud must get an editor to send an e-mail to DocumentCloud confirming that they understand it involves adding documents to a public catalog.

“We don’t want reporters signing on to something editorial management isn’t interested in or doesn’t understand,” said Hickman.

So far about 150 news organizations are using DocumentCloud to help tell stories. For instance:

Hickman explained that reporters and editors get to choose when their source documents go public, so a reporter (or reporting team) can use DocumentCloud’s analysis features, make public and private annotations, etc. while they’re working on the story—and publish the document when the resulting story runs.

“We do require that eventually the documents you upload get made public through our system. We’re not going to be your private repository,” she clarified. “But we handle implementing that requirement case-by-case.” Currently about 9000 source documents have been uploaded to DocumentCloud, but Hickman says only about 2500 of these have so far been made public.

According to Hickman, DocumentCloud seems to get the most use, and the best results, in newsrooms where the online producers sit in the same area as the reporters and editors. “It’s hard to be creative with any new tool if your workflow has you shipping stuff upstairs or downstairs for the next step in the process,” she said.

DocumentCloud developers are working on tools to allow people to redact parts of pages, so you can avoid publishing information like a teenagers home address. The developers seek user suggestions for new features, and those suggestions directly guide future development of the system.

Are you looking for a good idea for this year’s Knight News Challenge? Hickman offers this suggestion:

“DocumentCloud is great for documents. It is a repository of primary source texts and a great set of semantic analysis tools for text. I’m consistently surprised, though, by folks who want to know how DocumentCloud handles video. Or spreadsheets. It doesn’t. I suppose you might want to annotate a spreadsheet. But rows and columns? Functionally, our software has no idea what those are. Same with pictures and sounds.

“You’d need a different name for your project, but I can tell you now that there are people looking for something like DocumentCloud for data and for video.”

May 05, 2011

Relying on Facebook for engagement: Risky for news organizations and journalists?

Last week I attended an event for journalists at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters featuring a panel of journalists discussing how they use Facebook. Founding editor Scott Rosenberg also was there, and this week he wrote a blog post exploring whether journalists and news organizations should be wary about depending too heavily on Facebook for their public engagement…

By Amy Gahran

In his post, Why journalists should think twice about Facebook, Rosenberg noted that many journalists and news orgs are engaging with their audiences, or at least have a presence on, Facebook.

According to Rosenberg: “Everything that journalists are doing on Facebook today… is stuff they could just as easily do on their own websites. So why are they doing it on Facebook? One answer is obvious: That’s where the people are!

“But there are other answers to the question, too. Many publications find that their interactions with their readers on Facebook are more civil and valuable than those that take place on their own websites. That, they typically believe, is because Facebook makes users log in with their real names and identities. Finally, individual journalists increasingly find it valuable to build their social-media networks as a hedge against the collapse of the institutions they work for.”

So what’s the problem?

Rosenberg continued: “Today Facebook is a private company that is almost certainly going to sell stock to the public before long. ...For the moment it appears to be trying hard to operate as a neutral and open public platform.

“...That won’t last forever. There are plenty of people waiting to cash in on Facebook’s success, ...They will expect the company to fulfill its inevitable destiny—and ‘monetize’ the hell out of all the relationship-building we’re doing on its pages. This is the landscape onto which today’s journalists are blithely dancing.

“By moving so much of the conversation away from their own websites and out to Facebook, media companies are basically saying, ‘We did a lousy job of engaging readers under our own roof, so we’re going to encourage it to happen on someone else’s turf.’”

With the exploding and near-universal popularity of social media services, news organizations can no longer afford to appear uninterested in engagement. Having some sort of social media presence has become a benchmark of credibility.

For that reason, I do think news orgs should have a strong presence in the social media that are popular with their communities. But don’t make this an excuse to slack off on adapting your own tools, culture, and systems to engage more effectively on your own digital “turf.”

As Rosenberg noted in a response to a comment: “To the extent that news organizations invest in making their own websites great environments for their journalists and users to interact, they are adding value to their sites… To the extent that news organizations invest in turning Facebook into the place where they connect with their readers, they are adding value to Facebook.”

Other possible Facebook risks

The architecture of Facebook is also still mostly a “walled garden”—much of the content and interaction is not easily or universally findable or linkable. This is appropriate for interpersonal social networking, but it makes less sense from a publisher’s perspective. It can make valuable content associated with your brand harder to find, track, and keep.

Also, as Peter Evans-Greenwood commented on Rosenberg’s article: “At what point will Facebook decide that anyone ‘doing business’ on Facebook should pay, and not just the people transacting? One day you might wake up (probably not long after Facebook goes public) and find that you need a ‘Professional Account’ if you, as a professional journalist, want to continue interacting your community. And remember, Facebook gets to define what ‘professional journalist’ means.”

...Which means that the issue of who “owns” a journalist’s Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or other social media connections isn’t necessarily just a matter of agreements between news orgs and their staff (another contentious issue which arose that evening). Facebook, Twitter, and other services could change those rules as well.

Pulling Facebook into your site

Some news organizations are using Facebook in a different way: Replacing their own commenting systems with the Facebook Comments plugin. This may improve the user experience. But this approach means all comments now “live” on Facebook’s servers—where that content may or may not be archived and indexed effectively.

Also, Facebook can modify its distributed commenting experience at any time—by, say, inserting its own ads into the comment streams that appear on news sites.

Six months ago, Facebook commenting was fully implemented on three San Francisco Bay Area papers owned by MediaNews Group:,, and (See their Reader FAQ and Commenting tools and tips.)

George Kelly, online coordinator for the Contra Costa Times, notes that the switch to Facebook comments on those sites hasn’t yielded a huge overall improvement in the quality of public discourse.

“It’s surprising,” said Kelly. “I’d thought that using Facebook comments would make people less likely to pop off, provide less incentive to say rude or cruel things. And quality has gone up slightly on some stories, ones that give people more pause. But on higher-traffic stories (like crime briefs and sports or politics and government) quality’s wobbly.”

He did notice one intriguing change with the switch to Facebook comments: Grieving friends and relatives are now speaking up more often in the comments to news stories about deaths or crime.

“They’re less inclined to share their feelings with reporters, but they’ll show up there to post their wishes or sentiments—or hit back at people speaking off-the-cuff,” said Kelly. “They did this before we switched to Facebook comments, but it feels different now. It’s part of a space where people feel more comfortable being social, sharing more of themselves publicly.”

If Facebook were to start inserting its own ads into comment threads on news sites, “Our marketing and editorial staff would want to talk about it—but I don’t know that there’d be a rush to switch away to another third-party commenting tool like Disqus or Topix,” said Kelly.

Switching third-party commenting services also poses a risk: You might lose comments that were made via the original service. “That would be something to figure out, a hurdle to leap,” said Kelly. “You don’t want to just wipe the slate clean.”

Keep your engagement options open

In general, social media is a valuable complement to news sites, and it can even make sense to integrate that experience directly into your site. The trick is to not rely too heavily on any one social media service to provide, or host, most of your online engagement for you.

Expect that public tastes in social media will evolve, as will individual social media services. Fostering useful engagement directly on your own site is a good way to hedge against possible future vagaries in social media trends.

After all, it’s still possible that Facebook and Twitter might someday go the route of Friendster.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

July 26, 2011

How YouTube can help the news biz: Insights from Pew, Old Spice Guy

With great difficulty, I’m tearing myself away from today’s YouTube competition, Mano a Mano in El Baño (a face-off between “Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa and male supermodel Fabio) to read over the latest Pew report on video sharing sites.

According to Pew, 71% of U.S. adult internet users now watch videos via a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo. Furthermore on any given day, 28% of U.S. internet users said they had used such sites within the last day.

It’s yet another reason why news organizations should be using popular video sharing services to engage audiences and drive traffic. Here are some out-of-the ordinary ideas for making this work, ideally without creating too much extra work…

By Amy Gahran

First, some highlights from the Pew report:

  • Gender. While 71% of both men and women reported using video sharing sites, men may be using them more frequently.
  • Age. A whopping 92% of Americans aged 18-29 (a demographic most news organizations would love to attract) use video sharing sites, and 47% of this age group used such a site “yesterday.” If you’d like increase your brand awareness and market share with younger adults, that makes video sharing a good bet.
  • Ethnicity. Hispanic and African Americans (79%) lead whites (69%) in their use of video sharing services. This tracks with earlier Pew findings that these ethnic groups appear most enthusiastic about adopting mobile technology. It may help explain the strong role that YouTube played in sparking outrage in the African American community over the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland, Calif., and similar events.
  • Income is not a strong predictor of video sharing site use. For instance, 81% of U.S. internet users earning $75,000 or more per year visit such sites—but that’s a mere 10 percentage points above the rate for those earning $30,000 per year or less. The most likely frequent users come from households earning $30,000-$49,999 per year.
  • Rural is catching up. In the past year, 68% of rural internet users visited video sharing sites—a 21% increase over the previous year, significantly outpacing the growth from urbanites and suburbanites.
  • Parents (81%) are far more likely than non-parents (61%) to use video sharing sites.
  • Amateur-produced content is a key driver of the growth of video sharing sites.

Earlier I explained how news organizations that produce online video can prepare to capitalize on viral video potential by introducing some standard steps for cross-promotion between produced videos and their web site. This includes setting up your own branded YouTube channel, as well as displaying visible short URLs (permanent redirects) in your video, supporting those links with access to updates or related coverage on your site, and keeping an eye on your YouTube statistics.

Those are the basics from a publishing perspective. But here are a few additional content strategy ideas geared toward using video sharing for audience engagement.

1. More video, more often. Increasingly news organizations have branded channels on YouTube, Vimeo, and similar services—but many only publish there once or twice a month, if that. Video sharing sites (especially YouTube) are excellent channels for discoverability: the more you post there, the more people will find you there.

So consider how to make shared video a regular part of your publishing process, so you can post at least once or twice a week. This is especially useful for your most popular stories, or for topics of special interest to the demographics that Pew noted as being particularly into video sharing sites.

2. Use simple, engaging formats. When news organizations create video, typically it’s in a narrative story format, like this recent video from InsideBayArea on a Bhutanese immigrant community celebration. That’s great—but it’s perhaps the most labor- and time-intensive kind of video to make.

Consider short formats that require few cuts and little editing: Clips from an interview with a single subject, commentaries, teasers from a longer video project in process, and more.

Also consider partnerships with popular or prolific local videobloggers. For instance, regularly features the work of Zennie Abraham, a master of videoblogging in the Bay Area.

3. Frame for the small screen. Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are a big driver in the popularity of online video. This is especially true for YouTube, which has an app that works well on the iPhone and iPad even though Apple’s iOS mobile operating system does not natively accommodate Flash video.

So when shooting video, go for closeups more than long shots. Make the audio a bit louder and crisper than you would for TV, to compensate for tinny little phone speakers. Also, bumping up the contrast a bit can help for viewing video on small mobile screens in daylight.

4. Showcase videos from the audience and elsewhere. Video sharing services are mainly about sharing. People embed shared videos on their own sites, post comments, shoot and upload their own video responses, post them to Facebook and other social media, and more.

News organizations can—and should—embrace this by embedding great videos from others (especially people in your coverage area) on their site, with full credit and a link to the creator’s site or YouTube channel of course. Your community engagement manager (you do have one, right?) also can selectively “like” and comment on other videos, create and publish playlists, and use other strategies to engage and curate at the same time.

This kind of demonstration of interest in and goodwill towards other video publishers tends to pay off in more socially-driven traffic to your videos and your site.

5. Collaborative public storytelling projects. Most video sharing sites allow you to create contests or collaborative projects: People create and post their own videos and tag them so they can easily be discovered and added to a playlist or other aggregation mechanism.

The classic example of this is Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, where public figures and everyday people encourage LGBT youth who are enduring tough times to hang in there.

Pick a topic that your community cares about—especially one where people can act together to encourage each other, solve problems, or have fun—and try a similar project format.

6. Have fun. Most news videos are pretty serious and deadpan, even when they’re upbeat. But if we’ve learned anything from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it’s that fun is a powerful way to engage people’s interest in the news.

If you have a columnist or reporter with a gift for wit and a penchant for video, let them loose.

For instance, WSJ reporter Andy Jordan’s Tech Diary video podcast is a lot of fun. Alternatively, you might focus on simple animations rather than video—like’s Dear Prudence advice column.

If you want to go whole hog in terms of YouTube sophistication, try having a contest where viewers choose winners by rating videos which in turn are responding in almost real time to what people are tweeting or commenting. Yeah, that’s terribly “meta,” but as Mano a Mano proves, it can be fun, addictive, and incredibly viral.

Hmmm… who might play your news organization’s equivalent of the Old Spice Guy?....

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

November 09, 2011

Google+ pages: What news organizations and journalists should know, so far

Talk about stealing a page from Facebook: on Monday Google announced that businesses and brands can now set up their own pages on the Google+ social network.

This move has significant implications not only for engaging your community and building your brand, but also for how people find and share news—or news professionals…

By Amy Gahran

Previously, only individuals could present a coherent presence on Google+—to the consternation of several tech blogs and news organizations.

Now, several news brands (ranging from Oakland Local to Anderson Cooper 360 and The New York Times) have already created Google+ pages.

While many journalists use Google+ via their personal profiles, at this very early stage few appear to have set up Google+ pages to promote themselves as individual professionals yet. But other media pros, such as author Jan Kabili, are doing this.

Just now I created my own (and so far, very basic) Google+ page intended to help brand me as a media professional: Amy Gahran, Media Geek. It’s a work in progress. If you want to help me kick the tires on this tool, please add that page to your circles on Google+.

It’s not yet clear whether Google’s recent move to highlight journalists’ Google+ profiles via Google News will allow journalists to link to their Google+ page instead of their profiles. But if Google does offer that option, that might be the best approach. Stay tuned on this.

Background on Google+ pages:

Getting started:

CAUTION: Before you create a Google+ page for your organization or brand, make sure the person creating that page will also be the primary page administrator.

According to Search Engine Land:

“At first, whoever creates the page initially will also be the page administrator. No one else will be able to admin that page after them, at first. Nor can that page be transferred to someone else. Multiple administrator support is promised in the near future—but until it arrives, it seems important that if your company has a social media manager, that person should be the one to create the account.”

Should you have a Google+ page?

If you value search visibility—and most media brands and professionals should—it probably makes sense to use this tool. ZDnet sums this up:

“By linking Google+ Pages with basic web search, Google gives itself the advantage over social competitors and other search engines. ...And think for a moment about all of the other Google properties and how they might interact with these new Google+ pages. Google owns YouTube and, aside from the embedding videos into Google+ posts, you can imagine that Google+ Pages and YouTube channels might soon become chummier.

“Likewise, I imagine that Google+ Pages might soon find themselves ‘localized’ and built into Google Maps results. Better yet, as a powerhouse with its Android mobile OS, it’s not hard to imagine that Google+ pages would get wrapped into location-based services.”

Looking forward, Google’s new “direct connect” feature eventually will help make Google+ pages very easy to find via Google searches. If you’re creating a Google+ page, this is probably something you should set up.

Search Engine Land’s Greg Finn explained how to implement direct connect for your Google page. He noted: “Right now, only a few pages actually have Google+ Direct Connect including YouTube, Toyota and Google itself. While only a few have it, Google+ Direct Connect shows up in the administrative back-end of all pages.”

It’s also possible to create multiple Google+ pages—which could be useful if your organization has sub-brands (such as zoned editions of a metro newspaper), regular beats or sections that attract their own community, or special campaigns or programs.

Even if you’re not sure how you would use a branded Google+ page, it might be a good idea to set one up anyway—to ward off squatters who might use this tool to dilute or damage your brand.

Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan noted: “Anyone can make a business page for any URL without providing proof that they somehow ‘own’ or are associated with that URL. Potentially, that means pages can pretend to be representing a site they’re not connected with.”

How might Google+ pages affect your social media strategy?

It’s obvious how Google+ pages are attempting to rival Facebook pages, Wired points out the competition with Twitter—a service that is probably more popular with news brands and journalists than Facebook:

“The addition of Pages may be more of a challenge to Twitter. While a certain portion of the population is accustomed to information in 140 character bites, Google+ provides a richer forum where companies can release news to the public.

“Sharing pictures and video on Twitter, for instance, is still a rather clunky process. Followers usually must click through a shortened link and wait for a new page to load. By contrast, Google+ integrates directly with YouTube, the web’s unquestioned video heavyweight, and Picasa, its photo sharing tool.

“What’s more, anyone can readily comment on a Goggle+ Page post, and the Page owner can readily respond. With Twitter, that sort of communication becomes a tedious series of @-messages.”

Next week, I’ll examine how Google+ pages might affect local advertising.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

November 28, 2011

At the New Haven Register, reorganization emphasizes investigative and engagement

Journal Register Company Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady says the change seeks to “fundamentally change the way the Register newsroom operates” while demonstrating that “you can address the needs of traditional journalism while still reorienting your newsroom toward the future.” A new reorganization creates investigative/depth, engagement and breaking news teams.

Good news for digital journalism - the New Haven Register has embarked on a reorganization that recognizes the importance of engagement and in-depth journalism. I expect it will prove to be a 1.0 that will evolve over time, and we can learn a lot by following its progress.

In a post about the reorganization, Brady highlights the creation of three new teams:

- Investigative and in-depth reporting team
- Audience engagement team, which will partner with readers and community groups.
- Breaking news team.

JRC Connecticut Group Editor Matt DeRienzo said the investigative team initially will have two journalists, the engagement team three members and the breaking news team five. DeRienzo expects the numbers will change over time. “We see it as beginning, not the end.”

In post about the changes, DeRienzo noted that as Journal Register news organizations have shifted resources away from print production, they can put more reporters on the street. “And ‘slow news’ - journalism that delves deeply into a story, that invests staff time in investigative work - has a prominent place alongside the breakneck pace of breaking news alerts.”

The move, DeRienzo said, “will establish a full-time investigations editor position at the New Haven Register for the first time in more than 20 years. A second full-time position will be devoted to the ‘explainer’ format of in-depth reporting on local and state issues and “fact checking” statements made by politicians, public officials, activists and business leaders.”

He said the two journalists will be replaced on their old beats - made possible by consolidating other print-production jobs. The newsroom staff of the Register numbers 70, DeRienzo said.

Generally, newsrooms have been very slow to tear themselves away from print focus. Even when they are doing digital journalism, print routines and demands often drive the work. Better late than never, though. It’s encouraging to see a number of recent newsroom reorganizations. Let’s hope for more in 2012.

Here are a couple of posts about other 2011 reorganizations:
The Seattle Times: Newsroom reorganization reflects new priorities
Wichita Eagle: Testing a new model for digital-first journalism

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.



Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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